D.C. ceasefire activists crash mayor’s holiday party
Photo courtesy of Brandon Ellis

WASHINGTON—Several D.C.-based activists crashed Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson’s holiday party on Monday.

The packed event was attended by many of the mayor’s allies from a variety of city agencies along with big business interests and staff. Talk of “peace, unity, self-determination, and liberation” for the people of D.C. was heard from the approved speakers on stage; few words were uttered in connection with the most pressing peace issue of the day.

But a group of determined D.C. activists changed all that.

When Bowser came up to the podium to speak on the packed first floor of the John A. Wilson Building, protesters began shouting, “Mayor Bowser pick a side! Ceasefire or Genocide!” One demonstrator managed to prop up a sign behind Bowser that read, “DC Council: Ceasefire Now!” before being escorted out by police and drowned out by the singing of “This Little Light of Mine” by Bowser-friendly rabbis, imams, and reverends.

The action came amid what many say is the D.C. Council and Bowser’s attitude of complete dismissiveness toward the District’s Palestinian residents and its apparent alignment with the Israeli government of right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After the events of Oct. 7, the façade of the Wilson Building (where the Council chambers and mayor’s office are located) was lit up in Israeli flag colors. The Council was also treated to a private briefing by Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog, which led many residents to question whether D.C.’s political leadership was explicitly taking a side in the Gaza war.

The signals of support for the Israeli government led a residents group consisting of both Palestinians and Jews to organize a petition that received over 1,700 signatures calling for the Council to meet with Palestinian residents and remove the Israeli flag lights from the Wilson Building. The meeting eventually took place, and after tens of thousands of Palestinians had been killed, Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson was convinced to switch off the lights.

Activists are now focusing their efforts on getting a ceasefire resolution introduced in the D.C. Council. At least 15 other municipalities across the country have already passed measures calling on the U.S. government to support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza to allow humanitarian aid in, to facilitate hostage negotiations to release all hostages, and to begin real negotiations for peace in the region.

Winning a long-term and lasting peace will require an end to the siege on Gaza, the occupation of Palestinian lands, and the apartheid system in Israel that deems Arab-Israeli citizens and Palestinians as second or third-class citizens. Also necessary is an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, where Israeli settler violence has killed many Palestinians and led to the imprisonment of Palestinians without trial or in front of military tribunals.

Photo courtesy of Brandon Ellis

The D.C. Council has yet to show the courage to take a lead on this issue and to represent their 700,000 tax-paying residents who have no representation in Congress due to lack of statehood.

Councilmembers claim they cannot comment on international affairs or the foreign policy of the U.S. government, but in the recent past, they have passed resolutions calling for an end to the blockade on Cuba, condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and hoisted Ukrainian flags throughout the city. At Bowser’s holiday party Monday, the Ukrainian ambassador was an honored guest, but the Council still ignores calls for a ceasefire in Palestine.

Beyond an end to the current hostilities in Gaza, activists are also calling for the resolution to include the basic respect, humanity, and dignity of Palestinian and other Arab residents in D.C.

A woman who spoke during the meeting with the Council testified she was spat on by a passerby while wearing a keffiyeh scarf and walking with friends in downtown Washington. Her experience is just one of many showing that the violence in Palestine is creating conditions for not only more anti-Semitism but also more open anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.

D.C. residents, whether they like it or not, financially contribute to the genocide in Gaza—$15.6 million of their tax dollars go to military aid for Israel. Metropolitan Police Officers also participate in regular training programs with the Israeli Defense Forces.

Lacking statehood, D.C. residents find little room to have a voice in national policy, but at the very least they expect their local representatives to put out statements and pass resolutions with a symbolic impact. They see it as a way to show that the residents in the nation’s capital do not support the aggressive foreign policies of the federal government.

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Jamal Rich
Jamal Rich

Jamal Rich writes from Washington, D.C. where he is active with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.